Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Pandorum

Pandorum. Directed by Christian Alvart & written by Travis Milloy & Christian Alvart.

Preconceptions: My hunter-gatherer male has lately provided me with a vast number of trashy fantasy novels. As well as proving, once again, how well-suited we are for each other, glutting on these has given me a mighty hunger for fantasy's gun metal gray cousin: sci-fi. Having a Trek-a-thon has helped, but I wanted something I hadn't seen, so I found Pandorum. Besides hearing that it was a fiscal failure, I hadn't heard much about this flick. Nobody else seeing a movie hasn't ever really informed my movie picking, sometimes leading to huge wastes of time (as you may have noticed). I hoped that this one wouldn't be one more for the muck pile.

General Review: Yes, like all sci-fi action hybrids it cribbed heavily from the Alien series. I'd be delighted beyond measure if something in this genre didn't, but since this has become a given, at least Pandorum didn't copy its space mommy in every conceivable way. A different H.R. Giger painting appears to be the inspiration for some of the visuals, for one. Comparing this movie with Aliens is pretty fruitless, and besides, Pandorum can be much more easily characterized in the ways it didn't piss me off. Action sequences were filmed smoothly, with no hand held camera to be seen. This movie had the distinction of being one of the few fairly recent action flicks that didn't make me feel car sick. The filth was actually filthy, rather than just giving the hero a bit of "oh isn't he sexy" dirt on his face. In fact given the level of grime, there was refreshingly little crow-barred-in sexiness (except for the main chick's space age push up bra, which I'll get to when I get negative). I was aware that we were in dark corridors but was able to see everything that went on, helped in part by my very best friend: smooth camera work. The expository sequences were more than a little clunky and peppered with awkward phrases like: "you just had to remind me of the worst space disaster in history" delivered in the typical gravely hero voice, but they were mercifully brief and did answer the questions they raised. The monster design was cenobite in the extreme, but after setting them up as super-strong our heroes mostly failed at fighting them and found that running away was the best option, which was refreshing. Despite the fact that we spent a lot of time running through corridors ala old Doctor Who the pace of the movie was excellent. All in all, I haven't seen a more competent action sci-fi type movie in some time.

Competence, however, does not mean excellence. While I can say with complete honesty that I enjoyed watching Pandorum, it was a long walk from being a great movie. Our hero felt like one of those NPC tools that you're always having to escort from place to place in video games. Every time he took a step, he was falling down holes, attracting monsters or dropping his weapon. The team would have had an easier time carrying an egg on a spoon to their objective than hauling him along. In the movie's favour there were valid reasons (besides your earth morality) for the rest of the characters not cracking open his skull, eating the innards and being on their way.

Speaking of the rest of the cast - movies, can we make a deal, you and I? I'll agree not to complain if you want to make a boy's story about soldiers that doesn't include any women and you promise to just leave women out entirely rather than turning them into tits that spout macho catch phrases. Yes, yes, I know, we all like breasts, and our main chick kicked a bit of ass and was supposed to be some sort of scientist (trained in the deadly arts of kung-fu, I guess) and we needed every person possible to pack our hero in soft tissue and delicately carry him to his destination, but eeesh, that is a lot of tightly controlled cleavage for someone who's been barely surviving the last few years.

My first look at the inside of the ship wasn't heartening. The bridge looked like it was made with white cardboard and the uniforms were tragically Babylon 5-y (actually, come to think of it, so was that cardboard bridge). Fortunately, the rest of the ship's guts were metal walkways and too few lights (phew back in our Aliens comfort zone). What surprised me most was that when they got the lights back on, the place that had been so menacing suddenly looked livable. That's a difficult trick to pull off and something that I've rarely seen done so successfully. The tiny crawlspaces full of tubes were also a nice (and gross) womb-like touch.

No, there wasn't a lot of deep character development or astonishingly good, award winning sci-fi to be found in Pandorum. But, it didn't nauseate, patronize or bore me to tears. The look of it was pretty slick, if unoriginal. Most importantly, it entertained. I didn't spend any of my time watching Pandorum nodding off or wishing it would end so that I could type out something snarky about it. It isn't going to floor you and make you re-think your way of life the way excellent sci-fi can, but it is going to get you wired and interested the way good action should.

Aside: For the curious here is the glorious book pile:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is a pretty accurate summary of the film. There's definitely more than one moment like:
    "Just a minute ago Bower was taking charge and telling everyone exactly how he was going to save the ship... and now he wants go back and save the life of a random non-character getting eaten alive by super monsters when he should be running for dear life? Give me a break."
    Those aren't bad enough to ruin the movie. But I might just love the space-mission-gone-wrong scenario so much that I'm willing to excuse almost anything.